Dharma Transmission in Dogen’s Zen – Part 2

Dharma Transmission in Dogen’s Zen – Part 2

See Also: Dharma Transmission in Dogen’s Zen – Part 1

 We should by all means have as our investigation through training and practice an exploration that broadly spans the sayings of all the Buddhas and Ancestors. ~Shobogenzo, Kokyo, Hubert Nearman

In encountering these sayings and expressions of Theirs, do not treat them as something apart from the Buddha’s assembly, for They are Buddhas turning the Wheel of the Dharma. ~Shobogenzo, Much? Setsumu, Hubert Nearman

Zen Buddhism is a transmitted wisdom tradition, but there are two types of wisdom traditions; one type that aspires to reveal the world as it is, and one type that aspires to create the world as it can be. Cults, dogmatists, formalists, and institutions are the agents of the former which Dogen refers to as, among other things, followers of the lesser vehicles, unreliable fellows, scholars who count words, narrow-minded teachers, non-Buddhists, demons, and animals. “Wisdom” traditions of this type would be more accurately referred to as “formalist” traditions. Such traditions, because of their rigid adherence to formalism, function as natural archivists, thus proving beneficial to true wisdom traditions by maintaining their outward expressions. While contributing nothing to the expansion of wisdom, such traditions, like living fossils that can maintain forms and expressions of wisdom for hundreds, or even thousands of years after their living meaning has been lost.

For example, the recently authenticated “Shinji” or “Mana” Shobogenzo, a collection of 300 classic koans compiled by Dogen, was long charged as fraudulent by the Japanese Soto institution—who claim to represent an ‘unbroken chain’ of Dharma-transmission directly to Dogen. The recent discovery of this koan collection—in Dogen’s own hand—demonstrated that the Soto institution had ‘lost’ the meaning (wisdom) of Dogen’s work, it must also be acknowledged that without the institution the text itself would probably not have survived. The same argument could be demonstrated for a number of Dogen’s other works, including much of Dogen’s master work, the more well known “Kana” Shobogenzo, much of which lay hidden away, unread for centuries at a time.

Outside their role as natural archivists however, such formalist traditions provide little or nothing to the expansion of wisdom. Grounded in dogmatic theory rather than verifiable experience, such traditions are simply systematic schemes based on speculative knowledge. Theoretical knowledge is, by definition, mere intellectual abstraction. Adherence to schemes constructed by artificially isolating products of our own intellect is a form of narcissism. The reality we experience by staring into this reduced reflection is what Dogen calls “dissipating mind and body.” In Genjokoan, Dogen explains one aspect of enlightenment saying that, “It is not like the reflection of an image in a mirror, not like the moon reflected on water.” This kind of reflection “defiles” the universe, thus revealing only dead world of pernicious stagnation of “nothing special”, and nothing matters, where scholars “count words”, brainless students numbly “count breaths.” This reveals a world of the same dull round, were resignation to the “facts” of life is seen as our only “free choice.”

The other type of wisdom tradition, which Dogen refers to as the “authentic Dharma-eye treasury,” and “the whole universe in the ten directions,” and “the real human body,” is not theoretical, but involved, not resigned to reality “as it is,” but actively engaged in making as it could be—this is what Dogen calls, “Actualizing the Universe” (genjokoan), and the creative activity of self-fulfilling Samadhi. 

To be continued…



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